"Should Mothers Be Concerned?" - NBC Right Now/KNDO/KNDU Tri-Cities, Yakima, WA |

"Should Mothers Be Concerned?" NBC Right Now Sits Down with Genetic Counselor

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NBC Right Now is digging deeper into a series of birth defects found in a three-county area. NBC Right Now is digging deeper into a series of birth defects found in a three-county area.

YAKIMA, WA - NBC Right Now is digging deeper into a series of birth defects found in a three-county area.

She's five months today, and it's a miracle. Olivia Jackman was born with a neural tube defect called spina bifida. Olivia's mom, Andrea Jackman, said she lacks the muscles to push her feet down, and she'll more than likely need leg braces to keep upright.

"Whether or not she'll have any other side effects, mental, or a lot of times with spina bifida they'll have problems with bodily functions," said Jackman. "Yet we don't know what that's going to be like for her."

Last July, we told you about the unusual amount of birth defect cases popping up in Yakima, Benton and Franklin counties. They're broadly categorized as neural tube defects resulting in anencephaly which is fatal, or spina bifida which can be non-fatal.

"If it's the head that doesn't close, the skull bones, you have anencephaly," said Susie Ball, a Genetic Counselor. "If it's the back that doesn't close you have spina bifida."

In the past three years, health officials said 27 women in Central Washington had babies with neural tube defects. That included 23 cases of the fatal anencephaly. In July, we reported that health experts couldn't find a cause for the increase, and we wanted to see if the investigation had revealed a common factor.

"I know that they were looking at where do people live, what's their education, how'd they get their water, where'd they work, how many kids do they have, everything they could think of that might be related," said Ball.

But so far nothing. Experts said they can't pinpoint a cause. We asked if mothers should be concerned.

"I don't think they should be overly concerned," said Ball. "I don't think we've proven there's anything different going on. I think that they should be aware and trying to have as healthy a pregnancy as possible, as they always should be."

There is a way to help reduce pregnancies resulting in neural tube defects. Health experts said taking extra folic acid, which can be found in your average one-a-day vitamin, reduces the risk by 50 percent.

Andrea Jackman said she hopes health officials can find a cause soon. Her little one is lucky, but others may not be.

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